US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft Could Be Equipped With ‘Mini’ Apache Cannons

US aerospace giant Northrop Grumman is pitching its Sky Viper chain gun for the US Army’s next-generation scout helicopter. The latest weapon is a mini-version of the automatic cannon mounted on the Boeing Apache helicopter, which the US has sold to India.

Last week, the Virginia-headquartered Northrop Grumman announced that it would build a prototype of its Sky Viper, a 20mm chain gun, for the US Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).

The Army is currently evaluating the Sky Viper and another 20mm weapon system, the XM915 Gatling gun, developed by General Dynamics Ordnance, at the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Armaments Center.

sky viper chain gun
Sky Viper Chain Gun – Image: NORTHROP GRUMMAN

According to reports, the Sky Viper is a 20-mm chain gun based on the M230 chain gun mounted on the nose of the AH-64 Apache helicopter. The Apache is the US Army’s primary attack helicopter that provides tactical support to the ground units in combat missions.

It is one of the most advanced and potent helicopters in the world and has been combat-tested in battlefields of the Middle East, Afghanistan, and North Africa.

The Apache helicopter’s most advanced ‘E’ variant, called the ‘Guardian’, is used by India. India is one of 17 nations that possess the Apache ‘E’ helicopters, which are equipped with the latest communications, navigation, sensor, and weapon systems.

Last year, the Indian Air Force had deployed its Apache helicopters to provide tactical support to the ground force amid the India-China border standoff in eastern Ladakh.

Apart from possessing ‘fire and forget’ anti-tank guided missiles, air-to-air missiles, rockets, and other ammunition, the Apache is equipped with the M230 chain gun that can fire 625 rounds per minute, enough to cause significant damage to armored vehicles.

A chain-gun is a light-caliber, automatic cannon system that uses an external power source. However, it is not like the traditional heavy machine guns and light cannons, which draw gunpowder gases to cycle the weapon. On the helicopters, the chain makes use of an external power source to cycle.

Northrop Grumman’s Sky Viper chain gun is based on a similar mechanism as the M230 chain gun on the Apache helicopters. The main difference is that the Sky Viper has a smaller 20-millimeter design compared to the 30mm gun of the Apache.

The Sky Viper has been designed keeping in mind the next-generation FARA program, which does not need big guns to demolish tanks.

The US Army is looking to induct both the FARA and a Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) by the end of the decade. Both the FARA and FLRAA are expected to fly alongside the current fleet of aircraft.

They could either replace the US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters or end up working with them in the future.

The US Army sees FARA as a combination of scout and light-attack helicopters to support Army helicopters and ground forces. They would fly alongside the AH-65E Apache Guardian helicopters while helping them in locating and identifying enemy tank formations and other units.

The FARA would call in the Apache attack helicopters to use their Hellfire anti-tank missiles or rocket and artillery strikes to destroy the enemy threats.

On the battlefield, the FARA is likely to zoom across the front line or dart behind enemy lines while scanning for threats and eventually engaging them with quick bursts of millimeter shells, leaving the major attacking tasks with other attack helicopters.

The Sky Viper chain guns could also be used by the future choppers to suppress the enemy and making a quick escape, before calling in the Apache attack helicopters for missile strikes.

The FARA armed with Sky Viper and the Apache attack helicopter would make a lethal combination and give a decisive edge to the US army in combat missions.

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